In Praise of Dialectics: Change and Continuity at the IWM

The landscape of Institutes for Advanced Study in Europe is currently expanding and changing its contours. Social sciences and humanities on the continent are under pressure. They are being modelled on the natural sciences as well as being increasingly tied to utilitarian ends of national governance. The future of the IWM must be envisioned in this challenging context of shifting intellectual agendas and institutional designs. The IWM is needed more than ever today as an autonomous space for critical thought and debate. But also as an anchor for individual projects as well as research groups on themes that have public resonance without being necessarily, or immediately, moulded into policy. The IWM was founded at the height of the Cold War when the eyes of the world were on Eastern and Central Europe. Today new configurations of imperialism in a post-colonial world invite us to place the region in a broader comparative perspective. I thus envisage the IWM as expanding its profile in a new but related direction that retains a coherent intellectual vision without demanding uniformity. My own background in social anthropology would complement and extend both disciplinary diversity and geographical reach at the institute. My current research on dispossession and disenfranchisement due to privatisation and a politics of (non)accountability in India raises vexed questions of expropriation, erosion of rights and the legitimacy of the state.

A new thematic focus that I will introduce at the IWM addresses contemporary processes of juridification (Verrechtlichung), which entail a judicialisation of politics from the local to the global scale. These developments are currently reshaping law, politics and policy, and redrawing the boundaries of each of these three domains. Furthermore, they pose new challenges for democracy and the exercise of individual and collective citizenship rights. Research in this area maps not only the realities of injustice under conditions of multi-scalar governance and legal pluralism but also the potential of creating justice. It will involve an analysis of judicial protest and the quest for justice around redefinitions of the “public good” as well as the “commons”—issues that are matters of concern to citizens, civil society and courts alike. I hope that the IWM journal Transit will become a forum for future discussion on these questions.

This new focus complements the research field of Democracy in Question (Ivan Krastev), just as my earlier work on entangled histories “Verflechtungsgeschichte”, or “geteilte Geschichte” (shared and divided/ divisive histories) not only intersects with the focus on history and memory (Timothy Snyder) but also with that on the multiplicity of paths and patterns of secularism across Europe and Asia (Charles Taylor). My interest in stratified reproduction and population policies furthers the research on gender and welfare (Cornelia Klinger) and allows me to return to a topic which I had chosen to address as the Peter-Ustinov Professor at the University of Vienna in 2011. The history of economic thought (János Mátyás Kovács), for instance, could include its histories in South Asia, which evince a fascinating mix of anti-colonial, nationalist, socialist as well as Gandhian alternative traditions, which could highlight Eastern European specificities by way of comparison. Similarly, a broadening of our understanding of post-socialist experiences could include, for example, a consideration of Angola or Nicaragua, where many ideas and institutional arrangements of various European provenances have been translated and domesticated. Using insights from post-colonial theory to think about EUrope today may prove to be another fruitful way to place developments in the region in a larger context. The research focus on Jan Patočka’s work (Klaus Nellen), and especially his concept of “Nach-Europa”, would form an important point of reference to reorient our understanding of post-colonial Europe.

Trans-regional reflections on the varieties of European historical and contemporary experiences in their interactions with non-European ones can explore the specificities of each while delineating past and present entanglements between various world regions. The IWM can thus contribute to genuinely globalising human sciences by providing a creative space for critical reflection in such a perspective, which allows it to reach out to multiple audiences in Vienna, in the region and beyond.

Shalini Randeria